Next Stop, Happiness Episode 20 Recap

As a last gesture to be nice, before cutting all ties with Mucheng, Guangxi, so disillusioned with the prospect of his marriage, agrees to defend Tuoye in court. But as he delves deeper into it, he’s starting to notice loopholes that don’t quite fit the picture. Chixin’s fuzzy memory, Tuoye’s unequivocal testimony, and the over reaction when Tuoye found out that he’s been pressing Chixin for information all point to a poorly rehearsed attempt at deception.

(We know Guangxi is skilled at spotting deceptions how? From his troubled loved life where the — pardon my diction — breeding ground is practically turned into a war zone with associates hired to spy and mistrust fornicating faster than love.)

Tuoye’s hostility further reinforces Guangxi’s hunch. Like a practiced hunter, he plans a trap and waits for his prey to fall.

Never shifting his eyes from Tuoye’s face, Guangxi comments, “It’s curious that aside from the cause of death (the stab in the neck), other scratch marks and tears were found on the underside of the victim’s ear. It almost looked like you were set out to kill.” “He deserved to die.” Tuoye justifies. Anticipating as much, Guangxi twists the corner of his mouth in a satisfied half grin.

“You done interrogating me?” Tuoye gets up to leave. Guangxi taps the window and signals Tuoye to sit back down, “I made a promise to Xiao Le to save you.” Tuoye softens. Guangxi continues, “I don’t want to see Xiao Le sad, nor do I want to see your mother collapse under pressure.” The appeal to emotion works wonders. Tuoye perks up and inquires about his mother. “Don’t worry, Mucheng is taking care of her right now.” “What a relief.” Tuoye mutters to himself, “I can’t thank Mucheng enough.” On a second thought, he adds, “Don’t misconstrue what I said. I was merely expressing my gratitude.”

But Guangxi’s brows are already furrowed. Not breaking eye contact, he replies coldly, “No need to explain. I already know how much you mean to Mucheng.” “You’re thinking about it the wrong way…” Tuoye attempts to explain but Guangxi cuts him off, “No. I know. She said it herself. Facing someone who cares so much, how can you put them through hell? If it were me, I’d rather lose everything than to have them worry over me.”

Succumbing to the power of persuasion, Tuoye asks back, “Did you decide to help me because my mother begged you? Or, is it for Mucheng?” “I said, I promised Xiao Le.” Changing the subject, Guangxi urges one more time, “I am confident that I can get you out of here. As long as you work with me.” “What do you want me to do?” Tuoye gives in.

What’s a major event without the fanfare? So here is ours: Apparently, the prosecutor is a hardcore I’m-gonna-get-this-guy kinda lawyer who is set on taking Ren Guangxi down the throne of excellence. (May I interject to condemn the music use at this particular scene? It’s so over-the-top wannabe intense, that it’s funny.)

Switching gears. Guangxi’s mother comes to Hua Tian Village to see Xiao Le (she misses him already!). She hesitates at the door, after much pacing to and fro, she decides against it and heads to leave. Luckily, Mucheng and Xiao Le return at the same time and the three of them come face to face with each other. Grandma’s first instinct at the unexpected encounter is to run. But Xiao Le is faster and welcomes her with cordial enthusiasm.

He invites her in and she hands him the pictures from the beach. As Xiao Le relives the excitement of the trip from photos, grandma takes a moment to inspect the room. Departing from her critical old ways, what Guangxi’s mother sees now is a doting mother, struggling to provide and maintain a healthy environment for her sick son.

A new found appreciation spurs within her. As grudging as it might have been to admit, the warmth of the small yet complete environment that now envelopes her as well as Xiao Le’s gentle proclivity are all reflections of Mucheng’s character. Only someone kind and loving can raise a child in the same good-natured way.

Although awkward, Mucheng fulfills her duty as mistress of the house and invites grandma to lunch. As Guangxi’s mother searches through her repertoire of polite excuses, Xiao Le grabs her hand and volunteers to take her to the bathroom so they can wash hands together. Unable to spoil her grandson’s fun, she stays.

Lunch is served and Xiao Le digs in immediately. Mucheng reproaches him gently for poor table manners. Cutely, he turns to grandma for help. To Mucheng’s surprise, Guangxi’s mother agrees and insists that Xiao Le do as his mother says. As this is the very first outward sign of acceptance on grandma’s part, the stiff atmosphere starts to lighten.

After witnessing Mucheng’s frugality with the dish soap, Guangxi’s mother finally says the words that’s been occupying her thoughts lately.

“I’m sorry, I once looked down on your upbringing. I was wrong.” She proceeds to admit her mistake of depriving Guangxi a happy childhood and intervening with his relationship with Mucheng at the time of his cancer diagnosis. Mucheng’s response, once again, impresses grandma. Not only does she not blame director Fang, Mucheng is able to see the situation through her mother-in-law’s lens.

With Xiao Le being the glue, the two women finally mended their relationship. Assuming the role of a concerned friend, director Fang advices Mucheng to give her marriage another try. “I didn’t give up. It’s just that Guangxi has shut me out from his heart… And I don’t know how to bridge the gulf between us…” At this point, Xiao Le runs to Mucheng and says, “Like this!” — a symbolic gesture that seems to say “just, go to him”.

In the meantime, Guangxi is working hard on the case. He notices a high occurrence of behavior where Chixin repeatedly reached for her good luck charm whenever recounting a stressful situation and arrives at an alternative explanation to the case. He asks a psychiatrist to asset Chixin (out of all the possible behavioral tests they could’ve done, they chose to use the Rorschach test!? The most frowned upon test that practically gave psycho-therapy its bad name.) The psychiatrist is able to confirm PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and promises to do everything within her power to restore Chixin’s suppressed memories of the crime scene before trial tomorrow.

On the day of the trial, Guangxi’s psychiatrist friend calls and delivers the bad news: she hasn’t made a breakthrough in recovering Chixin’s memory yet. (Oh don’t worry. If the writers can magically get rid of Chixin’s forced accent, forgoing all theories of language acquisition, then they can make her memories come back with a wave of the magical wand.)

Troubled, Guangxi is in a glum mood when Mucheng approached him. Thinking she’s come to inquire about Tuoye’s case , he asks, “Are you worried about the prosecutor’s questing?” She surprises him by shaking her head and commenting, “You look tired.” Being the bitter husband that he is, he treats the offhanded goodwill with cold indifference. Discouraged but still determined to salvage her battered relationship, Mucheng continues, “I know you’ve worked very hard on the case and I just want to tell you that no matter what happens in the end, I’m still very grateful for what you’ve done.” And of course, he takes it the wrong way. So Mucheng tries more one time. “Can you give me a little time after trial today? There are things I want to talk to you about.” But Guangxi dodges the invitation.

The trial starts with Tuoye pleading guilty to his charges, leading the two lawyers to exploit events surrounding the manslaughter in attempt to determine the degree of premeditation (Guangxi is going after involuntary manslaughter via self-defense while the prosecutor is aiming for first degree murder). As both able lawyers pose convincing arguments (or interpretations, if you will), they face an impasse. As a result, witnesses are called and the first is Mucheng.

She gives positive testimony on Tuoye’s character but the prosecutor discredits her by hanging old laundry in the open — she had a near-marriage with Tuoye and is currently married to Tuoye’s lawyer. Such convoluted relationship calls for skewed perception and therefore not suitable as reliable insight into the offender’s character.

Facing no more compelling evidences, Guangxi takes a risky approach by boldly injecting wild conjunctures in Tuoye’s defense. He raises the observation that there is no reliable witness, no fingerprint on the murder weapon, and essentially no iron proof that Tuoye did it. Suppose Hua Fengfang realized the depth of his sin in a moment of clarity and committed suicide. Suppose again, Hua Fengfang’s undervalued, under-appreciated sidekick, who… found himself in the mercy of ambition, took advantage of the commotion, and subjugated his boss to bestial violation. Then upon distressing inquisition, lied to mitigate suspicion.

Or, Hua Chixin, in the heat of passion, killed Hua Fengfang and repressed all memories of it.

And the truth, as unexciting as it may be, is the last of the three. Chixin rushes to court, divulges her crime, and awaits punishment. Viola, problem solved and Tuoye spared (magically). Before Chixin is cuffed and taken away, Tuoye pulls off the second button on his suit jacket and rushes to fold the token of love in Chixin’s palm. He tells her, teary eyed, that he will wait for her to return and sew the button back on.

Now, let me insert a comment really quick: I appreciate the fact that this iconic gesture affords a dimorphic interpretation on the relationship. While the romantic undertone is getting heavier, I’m more inclined to believe that Tuoye is bringing into focus the family bond that’s, up till Chixin’s run-away, not yet fully realized. It was mentioned in the past that Chixin was crossed with Tuoye for giving out his second shirt button so casually and not to her. (It’s a tradition to ask for the boy you have a crush on for his second shirt button at a high school graduation. If he likes you back, he’ll give you the button.) His reaction then was impassive at best. Look at the difference. This time, he’s offering her his button.

As the trial wraps to an end, Tuoye extends out his hand in gratitude for Guangxi’s service. The two men shake hands and reconcile their jealousy-induced differences. But since these two men share absolutely nothing in common (save for the fact that they fell for the same woman), their conversation returns to Mucheng. Guangxi expresses his decision to “free” Mucheng, noting how the two of them have only been hurting each other since marriage. Tuoye dispels some of Guangxi’s illusions:

“Have you considered why Mucheng hadn’t accepted me after six years when the reason she left you was believed to be me? Why she told Xiao Le that he has a father from outer space? You can be shrewed and clear-headed in court and yet you can’t see through a simple guise like this? Let me spell it out for you then. From the beginning, Liang Mucheng was only in love with one man. And that man is you. Because of love, she had to lie to save you six years ago.

“For six years, she knew you were alive and well but she couldn’t seek you out. Because she didn’t want to put a strain on your relationship with your mother. Even now, she endures your hatred and blame without complain. Do you know how difficult it is for her?”

Tuoye’s talk softens Guangxi but the latter remains undeterred on ending his marriage and escape to America. Just as he returns to his office to pack, Gary comes with information connecting to his father’s suicide.

The truth is not a least bit consolatory. Pictures show that Guangxi’s father had been carrying out an affair with a student. The social taboo of teacher dating student notwithstanding, the victim (dead daddy) is actually the offender (abhorrent adulterer). Thus rendered aghast, Guangxi pays his misunderstood mother a visit.

His appearance takes her by surprise. Ignoring her discomfort, Guangxi starts with a casual mentioning of Sheng De Tang, the deserted piano room him and Mucheng used to occupy. “For some reason, I had the hunch that Sheng De Tang was important. Important how, I can’t recall.” “That’s the place you remember your father by.” his mother answers in the same rational tone, untainted by any trace of emotion. He studies her for a second and tests, “Well, since I can’t remember it. Why don’t we tear it down and build something over it?” Too smart to be fooled, director Fang asks what Guangxi is trying to get at.

At which point, he stands up and confronts his mother of the truth she’s been keeping from him in order to preserve the loving father image. Thus prompted, she recalls the painful memory of her husband’s infidelity, their subsequent fights, and his eventual suicide as a means of escape. (Weak, weak man.) She hid the truth to protect Guangxi, playing the bad guy only because she believed it was for the best. (Strong, strong woman.)

With the truth coming out in the open and the confession “you’re my son, I love you” finally spoken, the ice ridge that’s been keeping the mother and her son apart melts into a puddle of both regret and new found appreciation…

The next day is a busy day for Mucheng. Guangxi had finally agreed to come over for a thank-you lunch after much hedging and she is determined to tell him how much she loves him. The morning was filled with optimism and the smell of food as Mucheng busies herself with preparations of the ever-so-meaningful beef stew personally. When the door bell rings, she runs to the door to welcome her most distinguished guests.

And welcomes disappointment instead.

Guangxi didn’t come. He sent his assistant Gary to do his bidding. By bidding, he meant a signed divorce paper.

Cindy Yen – I’m Sorry [download]

Listening to Gary list out the benefits of the divorce, Mucheng starts to tear up. When he gets to the clause of wanting Mucheng to take Xiao Le to visit his mother every weekend, she looks up and sighs, “He doesn’t even want Xiao Le?!”

The situation is further escalated with the revelation that Guangxi plans to leave for American indefinitely. He leaves today.

And then, as if to echo the end of episode 18, Mucheng’s cell phone rings…

Comments:

I’m happy to see that the quality of this drama has gradually picked up where it left off. The plot is showing more cohesion, the acting more refined, and even the camera man is having a little more fun than usual. For instance, the segment where Guangxi introduces Chixin to the psychiatrist is shot off the reflection of three panels of glasses. It’s intended to create a distorted view, possibly an echo of Chixin’s mental state. I can’t say that the technique enhanced my viewing experience but the attempt at creating a mystique ambiance is definitely note-worthy.

Of the many reconciliations that took place in this episode, I liked Guangxi and Tuoye’s handshake the best — that is not to say the others aren’t as well crafted. It’s understated and crisp, clear from the unnecessary shenanigans that often turns a good moment saccharine. All in all, a standard type wrap-up episode with a few satisfying scenes sprinkled here and there.

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